Description & Technical information

This fine drawing depicts an Arnavut (or Arnaut), an Albanian soldier used by the Pasha of Egypt, Muhammad ‘Ali, as the elite of his regular army. Predominantly Muslim, Arnavuts were a warlike mountain people from the region of Epirus, in the northwestern part of the Ottoman Empire. As described by a 19th century visitor to Cairo, ‘Their costume is artistically disheveled, their costly weapons as glittering as they are inoffensive, their proud and disdainful poses, their slightest gestures, everything about them seems to have been studied in its effect.’ Albanian soldiers were to be found throughout the Near East and were particularly noted for their elaborate dress.

The poet Lord Byron, who employed a number of Arnavuts as his personal guards, praised their costume as ‘the most magnificent in the world, consisting of long, white kilt, gold-worked cloak, crimson velvet gold laced jacket and waistcoat, silver mounted pistols and daggers’. A contemporary of Byron’s further remarked that ‘The Albanians or Arnauts...are extremely fond of gold and silver ornaments in their dress...The wealthier Arnauts have the outer vest of velvet and gold, richly interwoven with elegant ornaments...The breeches which are white are tied below the knees with a coloured garter...’

Albanian soldiers appear frequently in Alexandre Bida’s oeuvre, as well as in the lithographs he produced for two albums entitled L’Orient pittoresque and Souvenirs d’Egyte. A finished drawing of an Arnaut Guardroom in Cairo was exhibited by Bida at the Salon of 1859 - although the work is now lost, its appearance is known from a 19th century photographic reproduction - while a closely related drawing of Arnaut soldiers playing chess is in the Fodor collection at the Amsterdams Historisch Museum. A similar finished drawing by Bida of a standing Albanian soldier is in the Musée Jacquemart-André in Chaalis, and also comparable is a drawing of Two Albanians is in the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art. Another finished chalk drawing of a standing Arnavut by Bida, on blue paper, is in a private collection in London.

Medium: Black chalk, with touches of white heightening.
Signature: Signed Bida at the lower right.
Indistinctly inscribed in pencil at the lower left.

Dimensions: 40 x 27.5 cm (15³/₄ x 10⁷/₈ inches)
Provenance: Webster House, Kansas City, Missouri.

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints